Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's been a ~headdesky~y month and a half

Usually, where I work we get two weeks between the quarters, but this time around it's just one week. However, in that week, I am going to the Sirens conference in Washington, and am very enthusiastic and nervous.

It's my first real vacation since...ever.

I am also ecstatic about the prospect of getting some writing done, and meeting new people who share my love of writing and fairy tales.

On the other hand, it's one week that will be nonstop before I return to nonstop work, and I have some work things that need to be done before the week is over. So busy busy busy.

BUT. It wouldn't feel right not to document my enthusiasm (I can be rather deadpan, in person and in writing, so visible enthusiasm is a treat for those who know me), so I plan to post a few times while I'm there, or at least, one or two massive posts after I return.

I hope you are all enjoying the week. Happy writing, everybody.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Truth About Publishing

Nathan Bransford is a big name in the blog-o-sphere of literary agents and authors. He was the former and is now the latter.

[As an aside, is blog-o-sphere even still used? Am I behind the times again? Maybe I should just stick with the classic slang. Nathan Bransford is a smart tack, a smart cookie, he's an old-timey newsman who knows what he's talking about.]

Anyway...he posted a breakdown of the publishing process, from initial story idea to book release and beyond, in GIF form!

And it's awesome. Not the least of which is because of the Troy Barnes ("Community", played by Donald Glover) "My emotions" gif.

You should read it, too. Go. Go now.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Demystifying Books

I read an article a few days ago, mentally sputtering as I went through it (if I was actually sputtering, the coworkers around me—I was on break, eating lunch—would probably have looked at me funny). At the time, I couldn't really get past a few key quotes to speak on it analytically, but with a few days' worth of separation, let's see what comes up.

[A note before we begin: I don't really like using "boy" and "girl" to describe teens and above, but in this case, it's used for the sake of easy understanding. Figure when I use either, I am referring to preteens and teens, middle grade and YA readers.]

First off, the article was called "Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?" from The New York Times online. [Answer: Yes, of course there is. And I'm a pessimist saying so.] The article was about the current "trend" of girls reading more than boys, and how to help the "overwhelmingly female" numbers in the industry get boys reading.

Robert Lipsyte, the author of the article, begins by describing a panel at a conference in 2007, wherein he and other male writers were demystifying the audience about boy readers. My personal feelings aside about how they felt like "a sideshow," and turned into a "pack" of boys, Lipsyte uses the experience to explain that boys do the same, build packs. So when the pack resists, boys must be approached as individuals, with "books about their fears, choices, possibilities and relationships — the kind of reading that will prick their dormant empathy, involve them with fictional characters and lead them into deeper engagement with their own lives."

Absolutely. I agree. Of course, the same applies to girls, as well. They can create pack mentalities (Team Edward/Jacob, anyone?) that affect their reading habits. If the pack snubs something, though, bringing it to them as individuals can still work to encourage reading.

He goes on to say, and to quote Professor Donald Gallo as saying, that there isn't a dearth of good YA books, just that boys aren't reading the ones out there. This could be due to a preference for nonfiction, schools favoring classics rather than contemporary fiction (which boys apparently don't like, though I can immediately think of an exception from my own high school years), teachers being unaware of what's available for boys, or that boys "don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction. . . . Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity" (Scieszka qtd. in Lipsyte).

These last two strike me as the beginning of a bad trend. Although Lipsyte says simply "teachers" here, the article emphasizes the female teachers, female libraries, female readers, etc. that influence boys to read. He essentially puts the responsibility/blame (pick which one you will) for boys reading or not onto the women in their lives. This is emphasized by the second point, the assumption that boys' role models in reading are primarily women.

So although they should be approached as individuals with books that allow them to explore their emotions and possibilities, etc., they don't want to explore? The contradictions make me sputter.

Lipsyte adds that it can also be due to the books themselves, that there aren't enough that "invite boys to reflect on what kind of men they want to become," according to Michael Cart. The current market is geared towards young women, who apparently want to read about "mean girls, gossip girls, frenemies, and vampires." [~twitch~] A friend of mine, from whom I found out about this article, notes that there are plenty of examples to counteract that, such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Harry Potter, and The Lightning Thief series. There are also fantasy and YA fantasy books that have male protagonists, such as Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon Lexicon series, Mark del Franco's Connor Grey novels, Jim Hines' goblin books (for the young adult goblins, of course), and for a slightly younger audience, Dianna Wynne Jones Chrestomanci books, which have male protagonists in almost every case (in a few, I'd argue there are male and female protagonists). These are just the ones that occur to me off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are many more for a variety of age ranges.

Here's the thing: As far as studies can tell (though I have yet to see the actual studies, so I'd be interested in that—their methods and raw results), boys aren't reading as much as girls.

This is bad.

We want to change this.

Not so that boys can have books that help them figure out what kind of men to become, but so they can figure out what kind of person they are, and what kind of adult they want to become.

I feel that--

1. We are too focused on the gender lines. There's stereotyping happening in almost every discussion about this topic, not limited to this article.

2. The gender of the editors, writers/authors, teachers, and librarians shouldn't matter. Female editors aren't chasing after books because they only want ones for girls on the shelves. There is a business factor of course, so the fact that the stories geared towards trends girls are reading right now are getting more shelf space makes sense, but it doesn't mean agents and editors aren't looking for wonderful books that boys will also enjoy. Those librarians and teachers aren't only recommending "girl" books to the boys, but whatever books they think that individual will enjoy.

As a writer, my stories vary in their protagonists. One is an urban fantasy with two main male characters, but a number of female characters in important roles. Another UF has a female protagonist, an epic fantasy has two female protagonists. I am writing a YA steampunk ghost story with a female protagonist, but a YA fantasy about pirates and magic with a male protagonist.

Would none of these appeal to boys simply because I am a female writer? Do the ones with female protagonists have less action, or suspense because of the gender of the main character?

The article ends will a discussion of "edgy" books for boys being blunted or not published/written. That "supernatural books about space-and-sword epics" and sports books are catering to the lowest common denominator, I take issue with. The sci fi/fantasy/UF books are what I write, and I prefer them because they can include all of the complexity and struggle of a contemporary fiction, with the added struggle of demons, dragons, vampires, changelings, etc.

[It reads as if talking down to genre, which irks me. But is slightly beside the point.]

A final cause of edgy boy books being blunted is the addition of female characters. Somehow their very presence makes an edgy story less so. But he then adds that a book banned by many schools was still being slipped to boys by female teachers and librarians.

This about sums up my issue with this article, and the general discussion of the number of boys reading versus girls. Because, the females with all the control, not writing or publishing or teaching the books that will get boys to read, are in fact the ones getting boys to read.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Have You Heard About Readercon?

This convention has been mentioned a lot in the past few weeks, due an incidence of harassment, and an less-than-admirable decision on the part of Readercon's Board. Despite a "zero tolerance" for harassment and a stated policy of lifetime banishment, the punishment for the harassing individual was only two years, setting off a number of blog posts about harassment in general, Readercon in specific, and a lot of calls for action.

Today I read a statement by the Readercon Committee (concom), who have overturned the Board's decision, apologized to the harassed individuals, as well as others, and detailed a list of changes that will be implemented.

As they say in their statement, "It is probably impossible to create a 100% safe and harassment-free convention, but that doesn't mean we should stop striving toward that goal."

I urge anyone who has attended Readercon, planned to attend, or thought about attending Readercon, to hear the statement. Through everything I'd read, members of the concom have been supportive of those who were harassed, and I am glad to see them not only listening to the community, but taking action against what was an unfair decision.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Linkage: "The Call"

This is just a quick post from me to point you all to a post from someone else.

What to ask when you get the call from an agent offering representation: "The Call"

These are wonderful questions that everyone should consider, though of course the specific questions you ask may differ.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Anti-hero Heroes and Anti-villain Villains?

I've spoken before about my desire to see/write more ambiguous villains. Maybe ambiguous is not the right word. But although I read or watch a story about the Big Bad (Voldemort, The Emperor from the Fables comics, Ma'ar and his incarnations in the Valdemar/Velgarath books), and greatly enjoy--can't wait for the next Valdemar book--when I am writing a story, I like to play with the idea of what's "evil".

Some books can have the flat-out evil villain whose only goal is world domination for the sake of world domination, and there are flat-out evil villains who want world domination for some other reason, but I like to work on a small scale, and play with the villains who have reasons for what they do and don't necessarily see themselves as a villain. Where even the hero or the reader wouldn't always call them a villain.

Shades of grey...if you can have heroes who are not particularly heroic, or don't want to be anyway, and who may have issues with morality, why can't the reverse be true as well?

Bookview Cafe, a site that brings together the thoughts and opinions of a number of authors, included a recent post that talked about some of the same ideas. by Sherwood Smith looks at the central conflict of heroes and villains, and the discussion that follows includes a bonus!Avatar: The Last Airbender comment.

There is also an earlier Bookview post by Smith that starts off this conversation.

"Villains are the heroes of their own stories."
What do you think?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Epiphanic reminders*

*I don't even know if 'epiphanic' is a real word, but I like it, so I'm using it. :)

I was just about to get started writing--later than I wanted to begin due to unexpected situations--but I found myself distracted. I couldn't quite start. "Well, I'll read some #editortips then, or visit an author's blog, to get inspired." I enjoyed both, but kept flittering from one blog to the next, like an indecisive butterfly. I still couldn't start writing.

Then it hit me: if I couldn't find the "right" thing in someone else's words, I should write my own.

So here I am.

Then I realized this was something I already knew. It was part of the reason, a part that never even really needed to be stated out loud, that I wanted to be a writer in the first place.

Sometimes I think we have epiphanies, grand floods of inspiration and information, and we suddenly understand something that moments before was elusive. But I think we can also have epiphanic reminders, those moments when something you already knew comes to the forefront of thought rather suddenly, and you wonder why you didn't think of it earlier.

I'm off to write now. I have a chica stuck in hell who needs to get out before New Year's. She's gonna need a little help.

Happy writing, everyone.

Monday, May 21, 2012

With the Green Wind and his Leopard

"(It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)" pg.4

I can attest to this.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Wizard, Revisiting

Years ago, I went to my local library, as my family did every week, and skimmed through the spines of the YA fantasy books. Many caught my eye, including one called, "So You Want to be a Wizard," by Diane Duane.

I read that book, maybe the second or third, and enjoyed them. It started off in a way that really made the reader feel the same could happen to them. Nita, the protagonist, finds the book with the same title. At first it just seems like a kid's book, but then turns into a real manual for wizardry.

In February, I turned 28. It's been a number of years since I last picked up that book, even though I have a friend who is a huge fan of the series. I see his enthusiasm and have thought on multiple occasions that I should revisit the first book. But I never did (the silly funk I was in). Until I went to the library a few weeks ago to meet with someone about a collaborative story. Of course I couldn't leave without looking at the books and on a whim I picked up books one and two.

Reader, I cried. A couple of times. And then I borrowed books four and five (they didn't have number three), and cried during one of those as well.

I didn't expect it, and I didn't remember being that affected by the stories when I was younger, but I felt encouraged by how deeply the story pulled me in and connected with me, and I have been devouring every book I could get a hold of.

It's also helped, I feel, get me thinking of stories and new plots and characters.

Ayway, if you, dear Readers, ever get the urge to reread something from your youth, I highly encourage you to do so. It won't always be the same experience, but you will learn from it.

Happy reading, everyone.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Path Ahead

Moving forward can be a scary thing. Sometimes the fear of moving forward hits you when you reach the end of one phase and have to start a new one, or the next one. Other times, it's frightening because the way ahead isn't the one you expected, or it was the one you wanted to avoid.

It can be scary, or perhaps nerve-wracking, worrisome, uncertain...we don't know where that path leads, or we think we won't like it, and where we're at right now--hey, it's familiar, why change it? But the path ahead is just that, a path. And when you step off of one and onto another, it's still there. But we won't reach our destination if we stand still.

This post was inspired by Terri Windling's most recent post, "The Path Forward." I read the title--by chance, I found it while thinking about some different paths my life and work can take right now--and even though the details between her post and mine are different, they both felt worth sharing.

I think I've been standing still for too long. Oh sure, I'll go back a ways, retrace my steps, see if there are other paths branching off of the one I'm on, I'll even take a few steps forward, but I'll always go back to that last step at the end of the path. And it's fear. Not just related to writing, but I don't want to be rejected, I don't want to fail, I don't want to put my time and energy into something that won't succeed. And I need to reverse all of that thinking. I need to take the risk and move forward, move past the possibility of failure.

Don't be afraid to take the next path, even if the one you're on right now is really nice, great scenery and no little rocks to get in your shoes. The next one, a new one, or a branching off of the one you were on before--you never know how much better that could be, whether it's the path itself, or the destination at the end, or an even better path at the end of this one.

Near the end of her post, Windling mentioned the term "self-fullness." Not so much being selfish, but being mindful of your own needs. So I encourage anyone feeling that fear of the path's end, feeling uncertainty in the unknown: be mindful of what you need, and make the time to give it to yourself. Then face the end of the path again, and move forward.

Happy writing and happy living, everyone,

Friday, March 23, 2012

When you feel like it, and when you don’t

In many writing blogs and books and advice, people say to make a schedule. 4 hours a day writing, or 5 hours in front of the computer, or 2000 words, or 10 pages... The exact kind of schedule varies, and should, depending on the writer--what they are comfortable with and what works for them.

This is good advice.

It’s important for someone who wants to be a writer to sit down and write regularly, even when they don’t feel like it.

But I know there are days when writers don’t feel like it.

I am having one of those days today. Technically, I am grading today, not writing, but I don’t think I’d be able to write even if I wanted to. I am dealing with a frustrating situation, and it’s making my headache worse, and I don’t even feel like grading right now, but like a writing schedule, it is something that has to get done.

To me, the goal is not always to plow through a bad mood and force oneself to continue writing (or grading) no matter what. Sometimes that can just make things more frustrating. On a few occasions when I’ve done that, I still get little to nothing done and end the day feeling as bad or worse because I put aside the time and still didn’t accomplish my goal.

On those days, I think the solution isn’t to plow through the mood block, it’s to fix the mood.

Take a walk, watch a funny movie, take a nap, call up a friend, play a computer game (just for a while, not all day; the cheapy computer games you buy for 5 or 10 bucks work well for this), but do something that helps you get away from the thing causing the frustration, or change the scenery to escape the other cues of your bad mood.

That is what I should do, too. Which I guess means that I should end this post now.
Happy writing, everyone.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Observation After a Week of Progress

So for all the stories in various states of undress, I added a new one in recent months, a collaboration urban fantasy. Since it's a collaboration, most of the work on it has been relegated to the meetings with my fellow writer. But that means I have about three to four stories currently running around in my head (four if you count one that I have completed but am not actually working on except in my head).

Now lately, my focus has been on editing Hounds, one of my urban fantasies, since the clockwork ghost story has been so tricky.

Here is my observation:

As I make progress on one, I am motivated to (and actually do!) make progress on other stories.

Although I'd been spending my free moments trying to rearrange and rewrite Hounds, as I found scenes to drop, or chapters to rewrite and combine, I had realizations about scenes and chapters for these other stories. As I edited that more, I wanted to write more, and spent more time on the bus writing the opening chapter of the collaboration...instead of listening to music and zoning out.

So my advice (as always, take with a grain of salt and "to each their own," since everyone's process differs), is that if you are stuck in one story, try switching to something else. It may help break through the block, and you can return to the first story with rejuvenation.

I don't switch from one to another every few minutes, but as I work on one, I keep the others in mind, and make notes of changes and new things that can help those others for when I do work on them, later that same day, or maybe the next.

Happy writing, everyone.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beauty and the Beastly Boyfriend

I am looking forward to tomorrow night. For as long I can remember, I have enjoyed and then become enamored/fascinated/obsessed with fairy tales, and my favorite has always been Beauty and the Beast.

Although I read many different versions when I was a kid, the Disney film stuck with me because you had a young woman who was smart, bookish, and frankly, a brunette with a ponytail [as a kid, I was always on the lookout for characters I could identify with, not only in character traits I had or wanted to have, but physically as well, and there just weren’t a ton of brunettes that weren’t passive and mousy (I was already mousy enough)]. Anyway, Belle became the starting point of transitioning my love stories into a far too in-depth fascination.

So tomorrow night, Sunday. ABC has a new show called Once Upon a Time. Since they’re owned by Disney, they can use as much or as little of the animated films’ influence as they want, but in an article (with either Sci Fi magazine or Entertainment Weekly, I don’t recall which but they’re the only ones I read), one of the creators said they were trying to stay away from the Disneyfied tales. At most, they have only used a few names, like Pongo and Jiminy.

Now, as much as I love Beauty and the Beast in any form, the more I think about, the less I like the premise. This is a bit heartbreaking for me.

But when you deconstruct it, you have a beautiful girl, essentially forced (because she loves her father and would do anything to see him not die, what choice does she have once he asks her?) to leave home and go to the home of a man monstrous in appearance, sure, but also a monster in character. She must fall in love with this monstrous (in every way) person, so that he can be beautiful again. In the process, she changes him, he falls for her, and she for him, before she realizes she should never have left his side (despite her father dying, usually from illness). It reeks of Stockholm syndrome and/or an abusive boyfriend.

Although she tends to be a more active participant in her life (she has more agency than a girl relying on a fairy godmother/dead mother in a tree, or a girl sleeping through most of her own story, or one who doesn’t know not to buy from door-to-door creepy old sales-ladies), she gets swept up in her father’s mistakes and then “makes the best of it,” and never tries to find any way out of it.

Plus, who hasn’t heard a woman say at some point, “I can change him,” only to have that end badly? He may love her, but that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be a jerk. And does it mean she loves him, or the person she’s turned him into, and is that true love?

So on this episode of Once, the Beast is played by Rumpelstiltskin. As soon as I saw the promo for this, I was intrigued, because it seems like it’ll play right into the idea of Beast as abusive boyfriend. Interestingly enough, the commercials never show Belle in the modern world, only in the fairytale land (looking a lot like her animated counterpart, for no discernible reason when Snow White and others get a drastic makeover), so I wonder if that’s just to keep part of the story a surprise for viewers, or to suggest something more sinister. It would be interesting to see if one version strongly played up that abusive relationship aspects of the story.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Don't You Forget About Me"

No, no, no, no.

Heh, sorry. Far be it for me to avoid the call of the wild 80s tune, sprinting into my thoughts and then gone again.

Originally, I was just going to say "Happy New Year", seeing as it was 2011 the last time I posted. This time I don't even really have the excuse of being too busy. Yes, there were a great many things to do before the new year, and before I knew it was back to work to finish one quarter, then starting the next, and an almost-week-long cold in between, but I had plenty of time to rest, unlike most breaks.

All I can say is that I felt I didn't have much to contribute to the internet-y world of writing and publishing.

My life the past month:
1. "Clockwork Seams" hit another snag, again, some more. It sits there in my mind, waiting, but I don't know for what.

2. I have begun editing "Hounds" again. I am learning that I am far too likely to focus on the details and miss the larger (rewrite that scene, and Character X can no longer exist!) sweeping edits. I am forcing myself to focus on the broader changes. Then I will try to talk to someone who's read the whole thing and run a few ideas by them.

3. I also realized, though this has been said to me once before, and is not a new observation of my own, that I love to complicate stories. I love to hint at and tease out past bits of history that have a bearing on the current situations, I love adding another character to throw a wrench in. My protagonist is being pelted with wrenches. Wrenches hurt.

4. As I edit "Hounds" (I keep three chapters on me when I go to work, so I can read large chunks and scribble over them when I have free minutes), I am realizing things to fix with other stories, like the short story which led to someone telling me the plot was too complicated for a short story.

5. Sleep. I have been trying to sleep more, because...

6. If I don't sleep, the last, fitful dregs of this cold will never go away. I can't not work, so the sniffly-ness lingers, as does the plugged ears, and a weak little cough.

7. And as of last night, I am watching "The Pirates of Dark Water," a cartoon I loved when I was younger, and the complete series of which I received for Christmas. And I realized, amid fairly rampant whitewashing in many shows for many years, "Dark Water" boasts a central cast of only COC. I also realized that it was science fiction, or at least science fantasy, because the premise of finding the 13 treasures would restore a city to a rather modern style. Maybe it'd by dystopic?

Here, have a blurry picture of the three main characters, Ioz, Ren, and Tula (apparently from a time when Cartoon Network ran episodes in syndication).